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BASEBALL EXTRA | AROUND THE AMERICAN LEAGUE

Yankee Suit Not Without a Few Wrinkles

May 11, 1997|ROSS NEWHAN

The suit George Steinbrenner has filed against baseball for allegedly interfering with his 10-year, $95-million contract with Adidas poses serious consequences for baseball and the New York Yankee owner.

If Steinbrenner persists in violation of the Major League Agreement that prevents any club or owner from suing the commissioner's office, he is certain to be kicked off the ruling executive council and suspended for a third time. No Yankee executive would be allowed to serve on a baseball committee.

The first of those actions--Steinbrenner's expulsion from the executive council--could happen Tuesday when the 10-member council meets in Chicago.

In their complaint filed Tuesday in a U.S. District Court in Tampa, Fla., the Yankees and Adidas sued the other 29 teams, several baseball officials and the industry's central marketing corporations, charging that there is an illegal conspiracy in violation of antitrust laws to interfere with their agreement. Lawyers for the Yankees and Adidas have subsequently said they can sue the commissioner's office because there is no commissioner.

The suit was filed even though baseball lawyers had approved most aspects of the Adidas agreement and, according to a baseball official, were trying to work with the Yankees and Adidas on ironing out provisions in apparent violation of baseball's national agency agreement.

That agreement, which the Yankees and all clubs approved, provides that Major League Baseball Properties is the sole representative of the clubs in all national licensing, trademark and marketing agreements.

Baseball lawyers, before the filing of the suit, had asked the Yankees and Adidas to get baseball's approval before initiating any projects.

If the suit goes to trial, those lawyers will argue that the Yankees are prevented from suing under the Major League Agreement, that they voted for the national agency agreement and that the suit has no merit because of baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws.

It's that last point that concerns baseball the most.

"If the court ignored the exemption and the Yankees prevailed, it would destroy league composition as we know it and lead to anarchy among the clubs," a baseball official said. "It would be every team for itself."

The likelihood is that the Yankees and baseball will resolve the sticking points in the Adidas agreement and the suit will be withdrawn.

"But with George, who knows?" the official added.

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With the Philadelphia Phillies trying to trade Darren Daulton and Gregg Jefferies, and willing to retain some of their salaries, the Baltimore Orioles are openly coveting Daulton as a left-handed designated hitter and pinch-hitter. Daulton is guaranteed $5 million this year, with a $500,000 buyout in '98.

Said Oriole Manager Davey Johnson: "If you look at the makeup of teams in this league, there's a lot of power potential sitting [on the bench]. Teams like Seattle, Cleveland, Boston and New York, they've got guys who can [come off] and maul you. They can dictate matchups late in the game. It's important in this league to have that firepower on the bench."

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